October 23rd, 2012 by James Ayre
A supersonic jet of unknown material has been discovered blasting out over two million miles from the center of a distant galaxy’s resident super massive black hole. It apparently looks very similar to what’s called the afterburner flow, which is released from a jet engine.
A newly gathered image of this jet shows that it contains both bright and dark regions. In a similar fashion to a phenomenon in an afterburner exhaust, known as ‘shock diamonds.’
The new image shows “regularly spaced areas that are brighter than the rest of the jet in a pattern that echoes the way the afterburner from a jet engine has brighter diamond-shaped areas in its general glow,” a news release from International Center For Radio Astronomy Research notes.
“One intriguing possibility is that the pattern we see in this cosmic jet is produced in the same way as the pattern in the exhaust from fighter jet engines,” said Dr Leith Godfrey, from the Curtin University node of The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research.
According to the researchers, the jets are created when there is material falling into the event horizon of a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. While that is the currently accepted theory, there isn’t any more detail to it than that.
“Massive jets like this one have been studied for decades, since the beginning of radio astronomy, but we still don’t understand exactly how they are produced or what they’re made of,” he said.
“If the brighter patches are caused by the same process in astronomical jets as they are in earthly jet engines, then the distance between them can give us important information about the power of the jet and the density of the surrounding space.”
The jets in question are the largest known objects in the Universe, at least 100 times bigger than the Milky Way is.
“If we want to understand how galaxies form and grow, we need to understand these jets. They are extremely powerful and are believed to stop stars forming in their parent galaxy, limiting how big the galaxies can grow and effecting how the Universe looks today,” Godfrey said.
“This new image of the jet shows detail we’ve never seen before and the pattern we revealed provides a clue to how jets like this one work,” said Dr Jim Lovell, a co-author from the University of Tasmania.
“This particular jet emits a lot of X-rays, which is hard to explain with our current models. Our new find is a step forward in understanding how these giant objects emit so much X-Ray radiation, and indirectly, will help us understand how the jet came to be.”
The new image was taken by using the CSIRO Australia Telescope Compact Array radio telescope located in New South Wales.
The research was just published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Image Credits: Dr Leith Godfrey, ICRAR and Dr Jim Lovell, UTas.
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